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Indefinite detention of Ukraine ex-PM Tymoshenko draws criticism

A Ukrainian court on Thursday ordered the indefinite arrest of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website, JURIST news archive] despite the chance that her current seven-year sentence [JURIST report] may still be overturned, drawing international criticism. Because Tymoshenko had already begun serving time on her original abuse-of-office charges when the court issued the order, the former prime minister was re-arrested in her cell at a Kiev detention center. This time, prosecutors are alleging that Tymoshenko was involved in tax evasion and theft of government funds between 1996 and 2000, a time when she led the intermediary gas company United Energy Systems. The European Commission [official website] on Friday expressed its concern [Kyiv Post report] regarding a lack of transparency of Ukrainian hearings in prison, and declared that such a process does not correspond to the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website]. In a statement sent to Interfax-Ukraine [Interfax news archive], the Commission called on Ukrainian authorities to ensure fair, impartial and transparent legal proceedings. Conversely, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) [official website] has defended the re-arrest of Tymoshenko by claiming that a hearing conducted in prison is not inconsistent with Ukrainian law. The SBU, however, did not remark on whether such procedure contradicts European Community law.

Tymoshenko was originally sentenced in October for abuse of office when, as prime minister, she signed a gas supply contract with Russia in 2009. Her prosecution has been closely followed and internationally controversial [JURIST comment], including harsh criticism from the West. In November, the Ukrainian Parliament voted against [agenda text] hearing amendments that may have freed [JURIST report] Tymoshenko by fining her rather than sentencing her for her criminal convictions. The EU has consistently condemned [JURIST report] the former prime minister's conviction as politically-motivated, and has indicated that the prosecution could harm Ukraine's bid for EU accession. Tymoshenko herself has also made efforts to demonstrate that the charges are motivated by her adversaries, but to no avail. In August, the Kiev Appeals Court refused an appeal [JURIST report] of her detention for contempt charges for a lack of legal grounds to contest the arrest [JURIST report]. Also, in June, Tymoshenko filed a complaint [JURIST report] with the ECHR alleging various violations of the European Convention of Human Rights [text, PDF] and arguing that her charges were politically engineered by current Ukrainian president and long-time political rival Viktor Yanukovych [official website]. Yanukovych narrowly defeated Tymoshenko in the presidential election in March 2010, but Tymoshenko has claimed that widespread voter fraud contributed to the outcome.

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